Village of Sundridge Coun. Steve Hicks has come away with valuable information and knowledge following a physician recruitment fair in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Going into the Sept. 23 event, Hicks knew beforehand that being at the fair would not result in Sundridge attracting a much-needed second doctor.
At this past Wednesday's council meeting, Hicks told his council colleagues the purpose was to refine the marketing material and get a better understanding of how the physician recruitment process works at these events.
The fair attracted representatives from rural and urban communities, with some as large as Hamilton and Brantford looking to add to their physician roster.
What Hicks came away with is that the Sundridge and District Medical Centre Committee has to continue to go to the fairs to refine its recruiting techniques and keep Sundridge in the minds of medical students.
“We got to get the Sundridge name out there for people to know and to remember,” Hicks said.
Hicks said the local approach at the fair needs to focus on information that's “most relevant and important to the physician,” and to offer local contact information if they have any follow-up questions.
Sundridge has been on the hunt for a second doctor for about two years and is currently offering a $25,000 signing bonus.
Hicks said physicians weren't interested in the signing bonus unless an extra zero was added, an amount of money he described as unsustainable.
His suggestion was to drop the signing bonus in future postings.
Before heading to the fair, the medical centre committee prepared a marketing video, which Hicks said no one else had.
However, his takeaway was the video wasn't needed, adding it's money that could be better spent elsewhere and perhaps could be posted on the Sundridge area's municipal websites.
Hicks also went to the fair with giveaways such as postcards of the area and about 200 locally produced maple syrup bottles.
He said other communities also had giveaways like honey and cheese, but told town council that while physicians liked the maple syrup, he's “not sure how much of that stuck” with them looking for a place to practice.
On the plus side, Hicks said the attendees really liked the postcards, which they intended to keep, while the eight-by-eight foot banner caught the eyes of other recruiters.
“They took pictures of it,” he said.
“We got a lot of compliments on it and they said that's what we want.”
Hicks said the recruitment process is something the area should have begun 10 years ago and not today.
When attending future fairs, Hicks said the strategy has to focus on what makes the Sundridge area unique.
He said the area is within easy driving distance of larger cities, meaning a potential doctor could live there and commute daily to the medical centre in Sundridge.
On the flip side, the proximity to larger centres means a doctor could set up shop in Sundridge and still be close enough to a city if they want to get out of town occasionally.
“We would offer a rural experience but it's not isolated,” he said.
Hicks said other rural communities that are more remote and deeper into northern Ontario can't offer that.
It wasn't a deal-breaker, but Hicks found when talking to physicians that none were interested in being one half of a team, “so when one goes on vacation the other is not responsible for 100 per cent of the medical care,” as would be the case in Sundridge.
Hicks believes future recruitment drives need to stress that a physician would be able to pick the hours and days they work, with no mandatory on-call shifts.
On the money, Hicks suggested municipalities take a page from the military, which pays for a student's post-secondary education in exchange for a fixed period of service.
Hicks said a municipality could cover a medical student's tuition, on the condition that the individual spends five years, for example, in the community.
Hicks saw first-hand at the fair that the physician shortage is a province-wide issue.
He believes the supply shortage could be alleviated somewhat if more students are allowed to enter medical schools and more foreign-trained doctors are permitted into Canada.
He also said the use of more technology, such as telemedicine, needs to be encouraged so more people can see a doctor.
Hicks emphasized this is not something municipalities have the power to do. Rather, it has to fall on the federal and provincial governments.
Hicks is confident the community will eventually attract a second doctor as long as it continues to attend recruiting fairs.
He said when the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury holds its next recruitment fair, it's critical that Sundridge's sole doctor, Dr. Sarah MacKinnon, be part of the recruiting team to talk about the benefits of practising in a rural community that also is close to larger centres.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.